The Gift of Writing

Credit: Israel Museum, Jerusalem,

In the Bible, Abraham displayed his generosity towards the end of his life by spreading his wealth amongst his descendants. In Genesis 25, “Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. Jokshan was the father of Sheba and Dedan; the descendants of Dedan were the Ashurites, the Letushites and the Leummites. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanok, Abida and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah. Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.”

An inscription recording a gift is an important piece of evidence in connecting the dots from the earliest form of an alphabet to the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet.

In the 19th century BCE, miners at turquoise mines in the Sinai, near Serabit el-Khadim, wrote inscriptions in an alphabetic text utilizing a limited set of hieroglyphic symbols to represent individual letters, each forming sounds for the first letter of words in the Western Semitic Canaanite language instead of in the Egyptian language.

This alphabetic system was passed along, as seen in a 17th century BCE inscription from Gezer and an inscription from Lachish. The development of this new alphabetic text continued from the Middle Bronze Age into the Late Bronze Age as evidenced from another inscription found at Lachish.

At Lachish, a jug with a Proto-Canaanite inscription featured an inscription in the Canaanite language that reads “Matan an offering to my lady Elat.” A man by the name of Matan presumably made an offering to a goddess Elat. This inscription is a gift to archaeologists in its connecting the chain from the earliest alphabet to what would gradually become the Paleo-Hebrew and Phoenician script.

The image above is of the Canaanite vessel with its inscription, on display at the Israel Museum.